Build it Better

We chose to do a sketch using the dataset that deals with Fuel Economy, supplemented by 2018 starting price from Kelly Blue Book (,  and propose a sketch with the following characteristics:

Goal: to encourage people to buy more fuel efficient cars.

Audience: current car buyers who  are not experts about different features and parts in cars (and have some 1990s video game nostalgia). We envision this being an ad or feature on a car-buying website, but not one that targets gear heads (i.e., Kelly Blue Book or Carfax, not Car & Driver).

Story: In addition to the type of car you select, the choices that you make about the internal  features of your car also are essential to the fuel efficiency.

To define the story, we had to choose how to best market full efficiency to our audience. We identified three options of main arguments to convince our audience: 1) “buy it because it’s eco-friendly”; 2) “buy it because being fuel efficient, it’s also friendly to your budget”; 3) “buy it because being fuel efficient, it’s also convenient to your schedule by saving you frequent trips to the gas station.” We decided to explicitly focus on the second and the third arguments in our sketch to make the abstract concept of “efficiency” directly applicable and more personal to individual buyers. At the same time, we use ‘green’ as a double entendre to also hint at making choices that have better environmental impact.

In our sketch, we decided to present  our narrative using the visual language of character selection screens from various video games to playfully present our argument and rules for a exploratory participatory data game. We use side-scrolling 8-bit text to explain the surprising finding that choices like drivetrain and transmission type can have an effect on average combined MPG. This introduction is presented in this sketch as slides, but would be ultimately animated.

After walking through this story and instructions on how to play the game, we invite users to select the car type and features they have been considering to see how that configuration stacks up against similar ones in terms of median combined MPG (which we’ve mocked-up here: Once users submit their choice, a pop-up would inform them  how their configuration compares to other similar configurations. If it’s not the most fuel efficient configuration within its car type, the game challenges users to try again to find the best configuration (taking some witty inspiration from the BBC Youtube Chemistry game, The Biggest Bang:) .

We also provide price and fuel efficiency information for the two to three most fuel efficient models in the 2018 range of cars with that configuration (to push even stubborn buyers to consider more fuel efficient options).

The features and criteria that we were able to include in the app were constrained by what was available in the dataset (Model, Vehicle Class, Fuel Efficiency, 2WD or 4WD, Fuel Type and Transmission). In future iterations of this sketch, we would try to find and incorporate more features that are relevant to average car buyers (such as number of seats, storage space, sunroof, horsepower, etc.) to make the tool more realistic and helpful in the car buying experience.

Kyoto Community Flower Diary

Helen Bailey, Maddie Pelz & Yihang Sui


This rich historical dataset dating back to the early 800s suggests that the full flowering date of the cherry trees in Kyoto have become increasingly early across time. We want to tell this story because cherry blossoms are an important part of Japanese culture, and are an example of the many species of plants being threatened by climate change.

As members of the travel bureau, our audience is people traveling to Kyoto hoping to plan a trip to visit different landmarks. Our goals with this interactive data story are to engage visitors with the cultural importance of cherry blossoms and the history of Kyoto, in order to encourage them to continue to build upon this historical dataset. Participants select the day of their visit to Kyoto, and then select an interest from the list we provide. The list includes architecture, religion, theater, art, and etc. After selecting their personal interest, they will be guided to the place of interest or things to do in Kyoto.

Assume they are interested in architecture. They then are shown a historical photo from the year in which that day was the full flowering day in Kyoto, and given information about that landmark. We then ask them to them contribute a modern photo of the landmark in order to help collect data on modern flowering times, as well as a way to collect and share their own travel memories. Using this app, we hope to connect their current travel experiences to the past in order to encourage them to reflect on the impact that climate change is having on these beautiful trees.

For example, Yuyiko from Tokyo traveled to Kyoto this year. She was interested in Religion and visited Daigo-ji on April 5th. She took pretty photos with cherry blossom and helped us keep the data of flowering date. From her photos, we collect April 5th’s data.

For this data story we used a dataset consisting of (almost) yearly records of the peak flowering dates of the cherry blossoms since ~800AD. Despite this dataset’s simple appearance, the data points have been collected from a range of historical sources, ranging from personal diaries to government documents describing emperors plans for the official cherry blossom festival. We used this along with scientific reports of how climate change is playing a role in these earlier flowering times to provide additional information about these blooming trends.

Sketch 3: Rent the Raceway

Project Title: Rent the Raceway

Team Member Names: Haley Meisenholder, Olivia Brode-Roger, Alicia Ouyang, Mitchel Myers

Description: The data says that there are vehicles which are much more fuel efficient than others. These more efficient vehicles produce less harmful emissions and result in monetary savings for users. We want to tell this story because it is relevant to the environment, quality of life, and spending capacity of vehicle renters. Our audience is car renters. Specifically, we hope to place our participatory data game at car rental kiosks (such as at the airport). We hope that through the game, car renters will become more cognizant of the trade-offs between their different vehicle rental options. Ultimately, we hope to use subtle/specific features in the game play to nudge renters into renting/utilizing more fuel efficient vehicles.

In this project, we utilized data from the “US Fuel Economy Measurements” data set, Hertz rental car data, and US map data. We believe that our game is effective for increasing renter awareness and encouraging renters to drive more fuel efficient vehicles.

In our participatory data game “Rent the Raceway”, car renters approach a car rental kiosk and find a screen (iPad, TV, etc.) with the game ready to play. The game is a car racing game with some added fuel efficiency game play components. Car renters are able to select a vehicle among the rental options to race with. In the vehicle selection screen, car renters are able to see the stats of the various vehicles (speed, mpg, etc.) and also the various “power-ups” that their vehicle will be eligible for in game. Once the renter selects a vehicle, the race begins and the renter will race their selected vehicle against other potential rental vehicles that the renter did not select. Some key game play features are: 1) the renter’s vehicle has a dynamic “fuel” gauge that is drained overtime depending on the MPG of the vehicle; if the renter runs out of fuel, the vehicle stalls out for several seconds; to prevent running out of fuel, the renter must drive over “fuel-up” icons on the racetrack, 2) each vehicle has “power-ups” that they are eligible for (e.g. a “cool” convertible can pick up  speed boosts and handling boosts, but not all cars can pick-up every power-up), 3) there is a running tally of money saved in the UI that shows the driver the money saved/lost due to fuel efficiency differences, 4) following race conclusion, the comparative race stats between the various vehicles are displayed and the renter has the ability to select/rent a vehicle.

We believe these mechanics are effective for communicating our message because 1) the user is constantly reminded throughout the game (due to power-ups and fuel gauge) the impact of their car decision on their journey/money/fuel efficiency, 2) the game play itself places fuel efficiency at the forefront by creating a more forgiving/easier game experience for fuel efficient vehicles, 3) placing monetary savings as a core piece of information for fuel efficient vehicles, 4) allowing the user to get detailed/relative statistics regarding trip performance at the conclusion of the race, and 5) providing a bridge to a car rental decision at the conclusion of the game.

Road to Sustainability

Kunyi Li, Caroline Liu, Margaret Sands, and Arturo Chavez

The data say that fuel economy for consumer vehicles varies dramatically. Building upon the knowledge of CO2 emissions in our last sketch, we were interested to take a closer look at the heterogeneity in efficiency across cars models on the market, one of the leading sources of CO2. It is common knowledge that auto emissions contribute significantly to pollution, but it is less clear that people incorporate fuel economy and CO2 emission properly into their car purchasing decision. The fact is that some cars have dramatically better fuel economy than others (Toyota Prius travels >50 MPG in the city while Dodge Charger travels only 19 MPG). The long-term effect of this difference can be significant, but it’s gradual nature makes it hard for people to realize it at the dealership.   

Inspired by the New York Times’ article “You Draw It: How Family Income Predicts Children’s College Chances,” we wanted to engage people to estimate the consequences of fuel economy. We ask the player to make a concrete predictions about the impact of their preferred car coupled with their lifestyle choices. The primary audience is young car buyers, likely purchasing their first new car. We envision this interactive game embedded into,, or (and their mobile app versions) to best capture our tech-inclined target audience.

Many CO2 infographics come across as scolding people for their environmentally unfriendly choices, but we wanted to take a different approach. Our aim is to coach players to develop a precise intuition about the consequences of their transportation choices. Then people can make a conscious choice with complete information. The interactive game structure where players make guesses and the game responds with feedback makes for excellent training to understand their own impact. We designed the prediction prompts to involve minimal math and hope the users will enjoy the estimation challenge. We are calling car buyers to choose consciously about the real costs related to the models people choose.


Polar Jenga – How long can you keep the ice from melting?

By Marc Exposito, Scott Gilman, and Kalli Retzepi

The data say that the Arctic is melting quickly, which threatens many species that live there. We wanted to tell this story because the Arctic is already experiencing the effects of climate change more than almost anywhere else on the planet, and yet it’s easy to ignore what’s happening there as it feels so removed from our world. Our audience is students in their 20s or 30s in Cambridge – we specifically imagined that this could be something students could play with friends in the Muddy Charles. Our goal is to provoke them to take some small actions to combat climate change that are possible on a student budget and schedule.

We made a modified version of Jenga to accomplish these goals. We added a deck of shuffled cards to the game. Each turn, instead of just removing one block, a player draws a card and follows the instructions. Some of the cards are factual – for example, “In 2017, the area of Arctic summer sea ice was the second-lowest ever recorded – behind only 2007. Remove two blocks!” Others involve polling the group about their carbon-emitting habits, and taking action based on the result –  for example, “Ask each player if they turned the lights off before they left home today? If all of you did, congratulations. Otherwise, shame on you – remove a block!” Finally, a third category prompts players to take action and allows them to skip a turn; for example, one card asks players to call their Massachusetts state representative to voice support for a statewide carbon tax.

A sample of cards from Polar Jenga

Jenga’s end, when the tower falls, is symbolic of the Arctic melting. It’s also a simple, widely known game that can easily engage our audience without much effort on their part. Finally, there is already a dynamic of collective responsibility in Jenga – there’s no winner as the players are essentially working together to keep the tower up, and the loser is whoever lets the group down, which appropriately frames the latter two card types that are based on individual action for the collective good.

With more time, we would definitely invest more time into the design of the Jenga pieces, making them feel more Polar. The game is also very flexible, and we would experiment with adapting it to other contexts – for example, developing a giant version to play outside or in Lobby 10 during Earth Day. It would also be cool to make giant Jenga pieces out of ice and play it at a winter festival. The cards themselves are very flexible, and you could easily add new actions based on different contexts – for example, activist groups could add cards about fundraising for their organizations or signing a petition.